COURT FINDS SYSTEMIC CONSTITUTIONAL VIOLATIONS BY CALIFORNIA DEPT OF CORRECTIONS

Extends Settlement to End Indefinite Solitary Confinement in California

January 28, 2019, Eureka – Late Friday, a federal judge found that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) is systemically violating the due process rights of prisoners. The judge ruled that CDCR is violating the Constitution by repeatedly relying on unreliable and even fabricated confidential information to send California prisoners to solitary confinement. The court also found CDCR is using constitutionally flawed gang validations to deny people in prison a fair opportunity for parole.

Read Court’s Decision here (Jan 25, 2019): https://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.files.wordpress.com/2019/01/order-granting-extension-motion.pdf

As a result of evidence submitted by the prisoners’ legal team, the judge extended by one year the terms of an historic settlement agreement to end indefinite solitary confinement in California prisons, including a provision allowing monitoring by plaintiffs’ counsel.

“The purpose of the settlement was to eradicate constitutional violations related to CDCR’s use of solitary confinement. Unfortunately, California is still violating our clients’ fundamental rights to due process. This ruling is an opportunity to remedy those continuing violations,” said Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights Rachel Meeropol. “It also sends a clear message to CDCR and California’s new governor: until the constitutional violations end, the courts will be watching.”

Under a 2015 landmark agreement, nearly 1600 prisoners were released from isolated Security Housing Units (SHU) and CDCR agreed to substantially reform the process by which prisoners were placed and held in the SHU. Prisoners are no longer sent to SHU based solely on gang affiliation—often established on the basis of extremely insubstantial evidence—but only due to specific and serious rules violations.

The judge’s decision underscored the serious problems in California’s old gang validation system and the way it continues to impact prisoners:

“Plaintiffs have provided the court with ample evidentiary examples that demonstrate that the CDCR’s old process for gang validation was constitutionally infirm (for example, because CDCR’s interpretation of the word ‘activity’ also included something described as, ‘non-action piece[s] of evidence’). As a result, prisoners’ validations were sometimes based on as little as . . . having received correspondence (regardless of the content) or artwork, a birthday card, or other possessions from a validated gang member . . .  or for the artwork they possessed (such as art containing Aztec or Mayan images). . .  Plaintiffs also provide evidence from a number of class members’ parole transcripts in support of the contention that gang validation is a highly significant, if not often a dispositive factor in parole consideration, and that when prisoners dispute their validation at their parole hearings, Commissioners consider the challenge itself to constitute evidence of dishonesty and a manifestation of a lack of remorse or credibility.”

“Now that a judge has determined that California’s gang validation system is deeply flawed, the Parole Board must immediately stop relying on these old validations and give our clients a fair chance to earn release,” said Carol Strickman of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children.

The judge’s decision also focused on how California distorts confidential information, describing one disciplinary case where “the potentially exculpatory part of the [confidential informant’s] account was never disclosed, and instead it appears to have been replaced by an inculpating statement that the [confidential informant] never uttered;” another case where a “prisoner was told that the evidence against him included two confidential sources . . .  however, according to the underlying confidential memorandum, there were not two sources, there was only one, and that person stated that he did not witness the event in question;” and many more, leading the judge to conclude that “time and again, the shield of confidentiality for informants and their confidential accounts is used to effectively deny class members any meaningful opportunity to participate in their disciplinary hearings.”

Lead counsel at the Center for Constitutional Rights, Jules Lobel, explained, “CDCR relies extensively on confidential in-custody informants, even though the California legislature and experts around the country recognize they are often unreliable. We hope this decision will provide momentum for California and other state prison systems to take steps to ensure that this type of unreliable evidence is not used to send people in prison to solitary confinement.

Ashker v. Governor of California was originally filed by prisoners who had been isolated in the SHU for more than a decade based on alleged gang affiliation. The lawsuit followed coordinated hunger strikes in 2011 and 2013 by over 30,000 prisoners statewide. On the third anniversary of the settlement agreement, former SHU prisoners published a statement marking their progress and highlighting work that remains in order to fully remedy their unconstitutional conditions.

The Ashker plaintiffs are represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, California Prison Focus, Siegel & Yee, Weil Gotshal & Manges LLP, Bremer Law GroupPLLC, Ellenberg & Hull, and the Law Offices of Charles Carbone.

Read the magistrate judge’s decision here.

Original post: https://ccrjustice.org/home/press-center/press-releases/court-finds-systemic-constitutional-violations-california

For more information, visit the Center for Constitutional Rights’ case page.


The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, The Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.

FEB 23 RALLY & COURT HEARING: California Prisoners moved to “General Population” from SHU are STILL being held in Solitary Confinement

Please come out to show your support on February 23rd for people to be put in a true general population setting with regular access to yard, day room, programming, jobs, fresh air, phone, and other means of social interaction and environmental stimulation.

Rally with us and be in court for oral argument in this important hearing in Ashker v. Governor of California.

Friday, February 23, 2018
Phillip Burton Federal Courthouse, 450 Golden Gate Ave, San Francisco, CA 94012

12:00 pm: RALLY outside the SF Courthouse
1:00 pm: PACK THE COURTROOM, Courtroom #1, 17th Floor

Show the judge we still support those incarcerated in solitary/SHU-like conditions!

We will head inside the courthouse at 12:40pm. You must pass through a metal detector and present ID to enter the courthouse.

Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/2011774719037446/

Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) will be there! Feb 23- Oral Argument in Ashker v. Governor of CA

Stop the Torture

“My total out-of-cell time for the entire month was 16.83 hours”

To supporters of human rights,

On February 23, 2018 in San Francisco, an important motion will be heard in Ashker v. Governor (aka Ashker v. Brown), the federal class action lawsuit challenging prolonged solitary confinement in California. As a result of the settlement in Ashker, over 1400 people were released from solitary confinement Security Housing Units (SHU) to what the CA Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) calls “General Population.”  Yet, many of the class members released from SHU continue to suffer conditions of extreme isolation. Hardly ever getting out-of-cell time, they have been forced to spend as much or more time locked in their cells as when they were in SHU, with little to no rehabilitative or educational programming or social interaction with other people.

On February 23,  Jules Lobel, of the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Ashker legal team, will be arguing a motion challenging these SHU-like general population units as a violation of the settlement agreement.

A prisoner who is no longer in SHU after 15 years, explains his new “general population” conditions at Calipatria:

“… Out of cell time is regularly cancelled or restricted. Yard time is scheduled 4 times per week, but is often available only 1 or 2 times per week. Showers and telephone calls, which are supposed to be available every other day, are infrequent, and we must choose one or the other. … I leave my cell for 20-25 minutes for breakfast, and many days, this is my only out-of-cell time. …The conditions in ‘general population’ in Calipatria are similar to SHU… I have limited social interaction and intellectual stimulation. I rarely go outside…I have difficulty maintaining relationships with my family especially since my ability to use the telephone is so infrequent and irregular. I suffer from insomnia. I suffer from anxiety that I feel is directly linked to the irregular programming: I am anxious because I do not know what will happen next.”

Carol Strickman, of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and the Ashker legal team, states:

“On Friday, February 23, the San Francisco district court magistrate will hear argument on our motion regarding the isolated conditions that many of our class members are experiencing in the Level IV maximum security prisons that they were transferred to. Their conditions are so extreme that our correctional expert states, ‘These prisoners are not actually in what reasonably may be considered general population: rather, they are in a form of restrictive housing as these terms are commonly understood within the corrections profession.’ We are encouraging interested parties to attend the hearing.”

RALLY AT 12PM before the hearing, outside of the courthouse
HEARING AT 1PM in Courtroom 1, on the 17th floor. (Remember to bring ID)

Please pass this message on to fellow supporters of human rights who may be able to attend on the 23rd. Check the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity website for upcoming details on a postcard campaign to further support the Ashker class members. https://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com/

If you have transportation needs or offers for the Feb 23 Rally and Court Hearing, please email phssreachingout@gmail.com or call 510-426-5322 as soon as possible.

Solitary Confinement is Torture.

NY Times Article on Pelican Bay Class Action Lawsuit, June 3, 2014

Judge’s Decision to Hear Inmates’ Case Threatens Practice of Solitary Confinement

…. Legal experts say that the ruling, which allows inmates at Pelican Bay who have been held in solitary confinement for more than a decade to sue as a class, paves the way for a court case that could shape national policy on the use of long-term solitary confinement. …

The use of solitary confinement at Pelican Bay, the lawsuit contends, is so extreme that it “renders California an outlier in this country and in the civilized world.”

Read the entire NYT article by Erica Goode  HERE